Leinster ready to go all the way in Champions Cup
Leo Cullen’s side are now 13/8 favourites to win tournament for first time in six seasons
Leinster’s Scott Fardy scores a try during his side’s 55-19 triumph against Glasgow. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpo
Diary marker: Bilbao, May 12th.
Leinster are travelling that road again.
Jordi Murphy dominated the early highlights reel from a victory that in try-scoring terms reads as an 8-3 thumping. The 15,947 gathering hummed along, but only the one-eyed would see competitive rugby.
Glasgow came to Dublin without their best players – no Stuart Hogg nor Jonny Gray – knowing this European campaign was already ruined, and were sent packing with a half century heaped upon them.
Exeter putting 40 points on Montpellier coupled with this victory secures a home quarter-final in a tournament Leinster are now 13/8 favourites to capture for the first time in six seasons.
To Murphy’s try and sin-binning: the cut of Isa Nacewa and heavyweight thrust of Robbie Henshaw – perhaps Leinster’s most balanced midfield combination since the good old days – delivered enough intent to allow the increasingly influential Luke McGrath to send Murphy over for an eighth-minute try.
He was barely touched. Johnny Sexton converted.
Within three minutes, Murphy was put off for tackling Ali Price after the Glasgow scrumhalf quick-tapped 10 metres from the Leinster try line. The Ulster-bound flanker knew to not make the hit would be to concede a try.
Italian referee Marius Mitrea – who lacks even an amateur player’s feel for the game (another example: he could have warned scrumhalves about crooked feeds rather than whistling them) – flashed a yellow card.
“What is he supposed to do?” Sexton remonstrated, but protesting was futile as another flawed rule was exposed.
Glasgow made hay with 15 against 14 men. From an attacking scrum Peter Horne took the latest heavy contact from Henshaw with a quick recycle putting Fijian dancer Niko Matawalu up against Josh van der Flier. The otherwise excellent Irish openside-in-waiting was stepped before Horne’s boot-levelled matters.
McGrath wasted no time exposing Glasgow’s porous defending with a 40 metre break. Then Leinster went to their maul which allowed Sexton’s reverse pass to put Nacewa over, completely untouched.
To label this sloppiness as training ground action is an insult to the mid-week effort of professionals. Glasgow’s defending was appalling.
Unperturbed, Henshaw was attempting to expand his usefulness. Fullback remains an option – he regained possession with high leaps off restarts and Sexton garryowens – and there is clear intent to expand his passing range. Some flings came off, others showed more work is needed.
The maul delivered time and again with the third try coming from Sean Cronin stretching over.
An inevitable bonus point was banked when Scott Fardy, already a foreign lock to compare with the influence of Nathan Hines and Brad Thorn unlike misfires like Steven Sykes and Kane Douglas, opened his account in a blue jersey on 34 minutes.
That was the ball game, the rest pretty window dressing.
Jordan Larmour was denied his latest try as James Lowe – a phenomenal attacker, yet suspect defender as his former Chiefs and current Glasgow coach Dave Rennie noted – was deemed to have knocked the ball on in the flick towards the lethal 20-year-old.
Larmour did attempt the spectacular; a chip and failed regather had shades of what the 2001 British and Irish Lions 13 pulled off against the Wallabies. Interestingly, he finished the game at outside centre as Rob Kearney replaced Henshaw.
On 38 minutes Sexton’s place-kicking duties were taken by Nacewa when the Ireland outhalf hurt himself sliding over for the fifth try. Sexton returned for nine minutes of the second half before Ross Byrne took over.
“Johnny is good, yeah,” said Leinster coach Leo Cullen. “You could see he was in a bit of a scuffle just before he came off, so he is fine. When he went down on the ground he seemed to jar his back.”
For Montpellier next Saturday – a dead rubber now – expect the team that ended rather than the men who started. All the internationals were pulled with Dan Leavy, perhaps tellingly, relieving Jack Conan and not van der Flier or Murphy as these four backrowers enter a vicious scrap to make the Joe Schmidt cut for Paris now that Sean O’Brien is recovering from hip surgery.
That should keep individual motivation aflame.
The evergreen Nacewa tipped his Leinster scoring over the 700-point mark with a converted try, following another clever line from what looks his best position, and while Glasgow responded with Adam Ashe and Niko Matawalu tries, in between Lowe’s first European touchdown, this contest was decided long before it began.
Fardy ticked the thrashing over the 50 mark when the maul rolled over once again.
Scoring sequence: 7 mins: J Murphy try, 5-0; J Sexton con, 7-0; 16 mins: N Matawalu try, 7-5; P Horne con, 7-7; 20 mins: I Nacewa try, 12-7; J Sexton con, 14-7; 23 mins: J Sexton pen, 17-7; 31 mins: S Cronin try, 22-7; J Sexton con, 24-7; 34 mins: S Fardy try, 29-7; 38 mins: J Sexton try, 34-7. Half-time. 56 mins: I Nacewa try, 39-7; I Nacewa con, 41-7; 61 mins A Ashe try, 41-12; 67 mins: J Lowe try, 46-12; R Byrne con, 48-12 70 mins: N Matawalu try, 48-17; B Thomson con, 48-19; 77 mins: S Fardy try, 53-19; R Byrne 55-19.
Leinster: Jordan Larmour; Fergus McFadden, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, Scott Fardy; Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: R Byrne for J Sexton, C Healy for J McGrath (both 49 mins), R Kearney for R Henshaw, D Leavy for J Conan (both 54 mins), B Byrne for S Cronin, A Porter for T Furlong (both 57 mins), J Ryan for D Toner (63 mins), N McCarthy for L McGrath (68 mins).
Glasgow Warriors: Ruaridh Jackson; Niko Matawalu, Huw Jones, Nick Grigg, Lee Jones; Peter Horne, Ali Price; Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Siosiua Halanukonuka; Robert Harley, Greg Peterson; Matt Fagerson, Matt Smith, Adam Ashe. Replacements: G Horne for A Price (45 mins, HIA and 59 mins), A Allan for J Bhatti (57 mins), D Rae for S Halanukonuka
(59 mins), K McDonald for G Peterson, C Fusaro for M Smith (both 65 mins), B Thompson for P Horne (67 mins).
Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)